Cock Robin

I realise there’s not been much of an update on the Caffè Nero soap opera for a while.

In all honesty, it’s been pretty quiet: Porridge-Loving Pensioner is long gone, sadly. I suspect he might have been carted off to an Old People’s Home and I doubt we’ll ever see him again.

Weepy Widower Peter is still moping around and is even more forlorn than usual, after being dumped by his wholly-unsuitable love interest. Peter spends a lot of time lamenting his lost love, banging his fist on the table and saying, ‘I’ve been a damn fool.’

I don’t like to tell him that the 30-year age gap might have been a problem.

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‘Back in the day, I was Cock Robin,’ he told me. ‘I had a 50 inch chest and 18in biceps.’

Peter believes that the reason for being dumped is that his love interest already has a boyfriend, who according to Peter is a controlling psychopath.

‘He’s a bad bastard,’ Pete told me. ‘I can sniff out a rotter a mile away.

‘The problem is she’s being controlled by that man. All these women are. I know because I watched a programme on Panorama about it.’

In the background, Loopy Linda is still stomping around, tutting at small children and falling out with Peter (‘he’s a petulant child’). She has also developed a fixation with the fact I’m from Lancashire, where she spends a lot of time dealing her antiques.

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Yesterday, she came up to me and said, ‘I was in Last Drop Village yesterday and I thought of you.’

I stared blankly at her for a moment as she stood smiling at me intently, awaiting some acknowledgement of this.

‘Ah, Last Drop Village,’ I said, weakly. ‘I only know it vaguely.’

‘Well, it was a complete dump,’ she said savagely and turned on her heel.

Enter Mad Malcolm stage left, resplendent in his best suit. Malcolm has been schmoozing with a younger woman, who he sips lattes with. I think this is a bit dodgy, given that he has an ailing wife cooped up at home.

‘Malcolm thinks he’s the oracle,’ observed Peter bitterly. ‘He rocks up in his flashy overcoat. It’s all one big ego trip for him. He just wants the attention.’

I’ve developed a bit of a fixation myself… with Ginger Colin Firth, who I’ve renamed ‘Frazzled Firth’.

Frazzled Firth is usually in Nero at the weekend, attempting – and failing miserably – to control his two sticky-fingered children who seem to spend most of their Saturday morning hurling bits of cake at him.

Meanwhile, his glamour puss wife breezes around in the background, with perfectly blow dried hair and ruby red lips.

I also vaguely know Firth from the gym. He’s part of a crew of men who do a rowing session at 6am, including previous blog stars, Big Grey Man and – perversely – my old Nero nemesis… Legs!

Yesterday, Firth was sat with his head in his hands on the sofa, while his two unruly children were using him as a human punchbag.

Glamour Puss Wife was hovering somewhere in the background, perfectly made-up as ever. She dropped off a tray of coffees and muffins, and then went and sat on the other side of the room to enjoy a civilised coffee with her friend!

‘You look like you’ve got your hands full,’ I said to Frazzled Firth.

‘Tell me about it,’ said Firth, wearily.

‘Our house it too small, the kids are hard work and I’m trying to get my business off the ground.’

I looked up to see the Glamour Puss Wife shooting daggers at me.

Peter told me that Firth’s wife is a high-maintenance career woman who leaves all the child care to him. Their marriage, he claims, is being held together by a thread. Blimey!

But back to Peter. After his latest love disaster, he’s back on the prowl. Sometimes, he dines alone in his favourite Italian, looking for people to talk to.

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‘You’d think dating at my age would be easy but it’s more complicated than ever,’ he sighs.

‘The thing is I’m just looking for friendship.’

He gives a wink.

‘Well, that’s what I tell them,’ he says, adopting a suggestive tone.

‘But never say never!’

‘Hey,’ he suddenly says. ‘You won’t tell anyone about any of this, will you?’

‘Of course not!’ I say, innocently.

‘I mean, who would I tell?’

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The Old Faithful

There comes a time in your 30s when the sad realisation of, ‘I’m just not that cool anymore’ suddenly dawns on you.

That moment came for me a couple of years ago, when I was teaching an English lesson and one of my pupils mentioned they liked Nicki Minaj.

‘I’m sorry, I’ve never heard of him,’ I said, to a chorus of incredulous laughter (yeah, yeah, I know, Nicki Minaj is a woman).

Last night was another of those moments; I’d bought the husband tickets to go and see Paloma Faith at Leeds Arena for his birthday. Due to the fact I eschewed Radio 1 for Radio 4 some years ago, I’m unashamedly out of touch with popular culture.

Still, the husband once mentioned he liked Paloma Faith. And given that he’s the most difficult person ever to buy birthday presents for, I immediately pounced on this small nugget of information.

Tickets procured, I casually mentioned to the husband one evening, ‘You really like Paloma Faith, don’t you?’

‘Not particularly,’ he yawned, looking up from his copy of New Scientist.

Drat.

Anyway, off we trundled to Leeds Arena last night… basically thinking, ‘We’re off to see Paloma Faith… Aren’t we cool? How down with the kids are we? (Tip from a teacher: if you actually want to be down with the kids, never, ever utter the words, ‘Aren’t I down with the kids?’)

Now, I envisaged arriving at the gig and being greeted by a sea of young hipsters. I’d even rummaged out my old Vivienne Westwood coat from the mothballs for a bit of Paloma-esque quirk factor.

So imagine our shock to rock up to the 13,000-capacity stadium to be greeted by…. vast hoards of old people. There were people in their 40s, 50s, and scores of grey-haired pensioners. In fact, from our seat in Block 104, I couldn’t locate a single person under the age of 30.

For one insane moment, I actually thought we’d stumbled into a Barry Manilow concert by accident – before realising there was only one arena in Leeds.

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‘Why are all these old people here?’ said the husband, as he took his seat next to a particularly irascible looking 60-something-year-old, whose bespectacled wife had her foot in a plaster cast jutting out into the aisle.

‘I don’t know,’ whispered the husband. ‘But I’m sat next to The Incredible Bulk; he’s spilling into my seat.’

‘I think we’ve woefully underestimated the demograph,’ I whispered. ‘I thought Paloma was cool – we’ve been hoodwinked!’

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‘This is a nightmare for Paloma,’ said the husband. ‘How can she possibly have any street cred when you’ve got Brenda and Beryl behind us bobbing along to the beats. It’s really bad for her brand.’

The arena darkened and on bounded Paloma.

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I glanced behind me to see some of the oldies on their feet, singing along to her opening number and doing what I could only describe as an embarrassing ‘Dad dance’.

‘You may mock Dad’s Army over there,’ I said to the husband. ‘But I tell you what, they know all the words to the songs.’

Meanwhile, Brenda and Beryl behind us had been getting increasingly drunk and raucous, waving their hands around and sloshing white wine down the back of my neck.

The husband was looking increasingly annoyed and kept glancing irritably over his shoulder, as did The Incredible Bulk.

‘Do not engage with Beryl,’ I whispered in his ear. ‘She is volatile and could turn violent. I repeat, DO NOT ENGAGE!’

‘Stand up,’ yelled Beryl. ‘Everyone stand up.’

She reached out and grabbed hold of my shoulder as I shrank away in fear. Losing her balance, she toppled forward on top of the husband – who was instantly doused in more Pinot Grigio!

‘Be quiet!’ growled The Incredible Bulk, who up to now, had been watching the show impassively, without so much as a flicker of excitement. His invalid wife pursed her lips in disapproval and clutched her injured leg protectively.

‘We’ve come to here to have a nice time and listen to the music.’

‘Shut up yerself,’ snarled Beryl.

From out of nowhere, a security man arrived. I silently pointed at them and made a discreet throat-slashing motion with my hand.

Beryl and Brenda were escorted out, staggering as they exited. They were never seen again.

Cocoon’d in Madeira

Eyes down for a full house! We’re on a pensioners’ vacation in Madeira.

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When I mentioned I’d booked an Easter break to Madeira, I couldn’t find a single soul who had holidayed here. Friends’ reactions varied from polite curiosity, open-jawed incredulity, and the no-holds barred, ‘WTF? Isn’t that where all the old biddies go?’

To be fair, the reviews for our hotel read a little something like this… ‘Having just recovered from a heart attack, a trip to the Cliff Bay was just the tonic…’ and ‘Cliff Bay was the perfect place to celebrate our Golden Wedding Anniversary…’.

Great, I thought, there’ll be no rowdy horse-play around the pool, no blaring bar music and the ageing residents – me included – will be tucked up in bed by 10pm. It sounded like my kind of holiday.

The husband was also wholly underwhelmed by news of the impending excursion.

To be fair, I did book it on a whim while he was busy lording it up – P Diddy style – on a ‘business’ trip to Miami, in what is purported to be the city’s trendiest hotel (the Fontain Bleu, for those interested). To a Miami socialite, Madeira is a bit of a step down.

In a final attempt to prove Madeira wasn’t just for the over 60s, I Wikipediaed the capital Funchal, where we were staying.

One statement stood out above the rest: ‘Madeira has drawn ailing visitors since the 19th Century. Many were so ill that they never made it home; they are buried in Funchal’s unassuming British cemetery.’

Jesus.

So it was with some misgivings that the husband and I boarded the flight to Funchal. As we suspected, there was a sea of grey heads stretching as far as the eye could see.

The flight itself was a very civilised affair. Large queues for the toilets admittedly, but lots of friendly, smiling elders (and not a lager lout in sight).

And when the captain announced that there was no charge for the trolleys at the airport, there was a collective ripple of approval from the silver-haired masses.

It was a seamless glide through baggage collection and a pleasant taxi ride to our hotel. Madeira was as pretty as you’d imagine: terracotta-roofed villas dotted the lush green landscape and as the taxi wove down the steep hills, the Atlantic sparked alluringly in the distance.

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We decided to take an evening stroll along the promenade. Due to its influx of the more mature visitor, the island had an unhurried and relaxed feel to it – a stark contrast to our usual frenetic lives.

As we trundled past many golden oldies with their walking sticks, we spotted a man unzipping the bottom portion of his trousers to turn them into shorts. I privately thought this was quite an ingenious idea.

‘If I ever wear shorts with zip off leg bits or open-toed sandals with or without socks, shoot me on the spot,’ said the husband.

‘One day, we’ll be old too,’ I mused.

‘We will,’ the husband agreed. ‘But I still won’t ever wear open-toed sandals. I will retain my keen aesthetic eye.’

Back at the hotel room, I weighed up our rather large bed.

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At first glance, it appeared to be a super king – in fact bigger than super king (uber king?!) But on closer inspection, I realised it was in fact two large single beds, each with their own separate sheets.

This meant an end to the husband hogging the duvet, digs from stray limbs in the night, or in-your-ear snoring… Here was the future of slumber. And I liked it.

Next door to our hotel, perched atop the hillside was the grand dame itself, Reid’s Palace – former holiday residence of Winston Churchill, no less. Visiting it for drinks one evening, I instantly fell in love.

Black and white photographs adorned the grand tiled entrance and the cocktail lounge was straight out of Mad Men. There was even a bridge room!

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The clientele were nearly as old as the walls themselves: all Panama hats and cream suits, sipping Martinis with shaky hands, while haughty waiters circled officiously. It was timeless elegance and OTT pomposity at its finest. I felt like I’d stepped back into the 50s.

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Romanticism aside, there’s another advantage to being on a senior citizen’s break: no need to rise at the crack of dawn to seize a sunbed (see last year’s Battle Of The Sun Beds in Croatia).

The elderly, it seems (with the exception of the occasional sun-baked wrinkly) prefer to seek shade, rather than bask in the Portuguese sun. By midday, there was still a bountiful supply of available loungers. The gym was virtually empty too.

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I lay on my sunbed for a couple of hours. There wasn’t a soul around. I started to get bored.

I missed people-watching; the occasional booming bronze-bellied buffoon to chuckle at (see The Ghost of Holidays Past)… Hell, I even missed the race to secure the most coveted sun-lounger.

I was on a Saga holiday and I wanted a saga.

‘It’s too quiet,’ I groaned, prodding the husband with my big toe.

The husband merely gave a sanctimonious smile, popped his headphones in, and closed his eyes.

He was only one step away from a pair of open-toed sandals.